Oregon Men’s Basketball: Ducks Fall to NCAA National Champions, Look To Improve Next Season Behind Altman
by Bryan Kalbrosky
The Louisville Cardinals, who became the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball champions last night, were the only team to beat the Oregon Ducks in postseason play.
Following their loss to Louisville, Oregon head coach Dana Altman and the University of Oregon Ducks finished a successful season. The accolades were capped off with not only a Pac-12 title, but also a March Madness Sweet Sixteen appearance. Altman’s hard work did not go unrecognized: after taking his team from nowhere and helping turn them into a contender, Altman received the 2013 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award.
When we look back on this 2013 Oregon Ducks Men’s Basketball team, we’ll remember them in a similar light to the 2006-07 squad, led by Aaron Brooks. In his senior year, Brooks averaged 17.7 PPG and solidified his role as a future NBA Draft first round draft pick. Behind the help of his leadership, Oregon finished at 29-8, including a victory over then No. 1 overall UCLA in a match most comparable to the Oregon-Arizona game from 2013 Oregon season.
Of course, the striking similarity between the two teams is that the 2006-07 Oregon Ducks lost to Florida, a loss that (much like this season) came to the eventual national champions. In fact, even the eight-point loss was the exact same deficit that both teams faced in their tournament loss.
The 2006-07 Florida Men’s Basketball boasted NBA talent such as: Joakim Noah (1st round, 9th overall), Al Horford (1st round, 3rd overall) and Corey Brewer (1st round, 7th overall). The 2006-07 Florida team was of historical significance: it was the first time that three players from the same school were picked in the Top 10 selections of an NBA Draft.
The team that Oregon lost to this year was also an impressive force of talent. On March 29, Oregon looked to become the first No. 12 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed. Altman and the Ducks came into the match without fear.
“Being able to play against teams like this, this is where we want to be,” said Oregon star E.J. Singler. “I feel like this is where we’re supposed to be.”
When the two teams matched up, Oregon began with a horridly slow start. Oregon struggled to pull in rebounds, had no defensive front, took minimal three-point attempts, had no presence in the paint, and virtually no rhythm. At one point in the first half, Oregon trailed by an unholy 24-8 deficit.
“We weren’t ready and we got smacked,” said Oregon guard Jonathan Loyd. “If we were playing the way were playing in the second half the whole game, it’s a completely different story.”
As Loyd points out, the game turned into one of runs and Oregon was able to bounce back into action. Oregon had the better end of 13-5 and 12-2 streaks, having shot impressively in the second half. But ticktack fouls called on the Ducks as well as unreal play from Smith made the lead too much to overcome.
The Oregon Ducks would eventually end their season with an admirable 77-69 loss to Louisville. It seemed impossible to contain the phenomenal play of Louisville guard Russ Smith. The junior scored 31 points on Oregon in the Louisville victory.
Last night, after Louisville claimed the title over Michigan, Smith joined a tradition of elite third-year talent to defeat Oregon and then declare for the NBA Draft.
“Without Russ Smith…” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, following their victory over Oregon. “We couldn’t win.”
Pitino, who last night won his first national title since 1996, certainly knows about winning. With his victory over Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen, Pitino improved to 11-0 in regional semifinal appearances. In those matches, Pitino boasted a 21.5 average margin of victory over opposing teams.
The Oregon loss, however, was nothing for Oregon to be ashamed about. In the 13-game Louisville win streak that Louisville bragged coming into the Oregon game, the Cardinals were winning games by an average of 17 points.
In fact, of the last twelve Louisville victories, all but one of them was by greater than 10 points. In their match vs. Louisville, Oregon only lost by 8 points (only 2 points less than the deficit of the title game last night) and trailed by only 6 points with around 5:30 to go.
Even to stand a fighting chance proved that Oregon had come a long way in this season. After all, the Oregon Ducks were projected to finish 7th in the Pac-12 at the start of the season. Altman, who was also awarded Pac-12 Coach of the Year, won the Pac-12 postseason tournament and eventually won a national Coach of the Year honor. It was the fourth most successful season in Oregon Men’s Basketball history.
Altman is also the second coach in Oregon history to record 20-win seasons three years in a row. The first Oregon coach to do such: Howard Hobson. For those of you who were unaware, Hobson led the Oregon “Tall Firs” to win the first ever Men’s Basketball title in NCAA history.
Oregon is graduating Ducks Men’s Basketball all-time wins leader E.J. Singler, tournament darling Arsalan Kazemi, standout sixth man Carlos Emory and pivotal big man Tony Woods.
Next season, however, Oregon returns rising sophomore standouts Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Expect bigger roles from Jonathan Loyd, Waverly Austin and Ben Carter. Perhaps even multisport athlete Arik Armstead and football teammate commits Tyree and Tyrell Robinson may even make more of an impact next season as well.
Regardless, anticipate Oregon basketball to be significant next year at the University of Oregon. The team has made the tournament and made an impact, and fans are not going to forget about these players. Oregon basketball is popularizing on campus as demonstrated by the extreme growth of the student section online brand during basketball season. With this incredible product, fans will certainly want to be at the games next season.
“We’re trying to build a tradition,” said Altman. “We’re trying to build something that consistently competes year in and year out.”
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